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Dealing with a Loss in the Family

by Lisa Regula July 27, 2012

By: Lisa Regula Meyer

There’s been a massive heat wave in Ohio and much of the US this summer, and drought conditions are occurring across the country.  Last week, we had some reprieve in the form of rain, but not nearly enough.  It’s nearing the end of July, and that’s oddly big for me, because summer, especially July, is a busy time. Family birthdays and anniversaries, the fourth of July and summer vacations, and juggling kid care with high research season and changed schedules all lead to stress and a touch of insanity in our household. Add in stuff with this historic house around town and trying to keep it off a garden plot, and you can just imagine.

The good thing is that I like working under pressure. In fact, as I type this piece, it’s a mere couple of hours before this piece is due. It’s how I roll, I guess, and I’ve tried to stop procrastinating- because, honestly, that’s what it is- plenty of times previously, and I may even try again. Tomorrow. Or later on this week. Maybe. Whatever.

Last year, on July 31st, my sister added yet another “thing” to my July schedule when she pulled the trigger on that .25 that her husband had given her. It’s been nearly a year, and I thought I had made so much progress, but anniversaries get you. Especially that first year, you can start to notice the days ticking down. My mom’s and first surro-girl’s birthday is the 22nd; nine days to go. Mom and Dad’s anniversary is the 23rd; eight days to go. Dwight’s birthday is the 25th; six days to go. And so on, ticking away until the 31st, with the tension and pressure building the whole time.

I know this pattern, but I just started seeing it in myself this year. I know the pattern because I’ve seen it plenty before. I saw it in family members after my dad’s death, and I see it in them now, and if I could look back on teenage me, I would probably see it then, too (one more reason I want a TARDIS). In my experience, the “gearing up” is shorter and shorter as time passes; at this point after my dad’s death (17 years), it’s really only the day of his death that I get uneasy. The world goes on, life gets busy, new memories fill one’s head while older ones get dull and blurry and faded over time, and that’s a GOOD thing! It lets us heal and not dwell on what pain has happened to us in our lives; our brains are pretty dang compassionate that way.

The last year has brought a lot of change in our house, some of it due to Kim’s death, and some of it not. Other changes are due to my dissertating, and job changes, and Kenny growing up. These changes haven’t been easy, by any count, but they’ve helped me learn a lot about myself and the world, and I can’t think of a case where learning- gaining knowledge- is a bad thing. I will admit that some of my learning in this past year could only have happened with the help of my grief counselor. I know it’s the twenty-first century, but I grew up with the idea that you didn’t talk about “personal problems” with strangers, that counseling or therapy wasn’t an acceptable alternative, and instead you just “get over” grief, anger, and other negative emotions. (Oddly, prescription drugs were OK, though? I never said family made sense…) Unfortunately, sometimes the stress of day-to-day life is already a lot, and adding on a painful, heartbreaking event is just too much for us to get over on our own. When that happens, it’s not just smart but efficient to ask for help of some sort. The pain still needs worked through, processed, and dealt with, but that help- whether chemical or outside professional emotional support- can be the difference in making a painful time manageable or simply leaving a great, festering wound.  I mentioned the weather to start this whole post off because that rain in the midst of a drought was healing, like a good cry in the midst of deep pain.  Just like tears, we need rain in the right amount.  Too much or too little, and life gets a heck of a lot harder, not just for the organism experiencing too much or too little water, but for all the organisms around it, through direct and indirect consequences.

I put all this out in the open for a number of reasons. Getting it off of my chest helps me, and maybe it will help someone else who needs a gentle reminder. I doubt it, but you never know. Knowing yourself isn’t easy in my experience, which is part of what makes having someone exterior to the situation helpful. At the very least, maybe this will help you, Reader, whoever you are. Sometimes the world is too much. Sometimes we all need help. That’s not a bad thing, it means you’re human. I can’t do anything now to help my sister, I can’t make her go and get some form of help, or be there for her any longer, but there’s still 7+ billion people on the planet, and maybe one of those people I *can* help.

Best of all, maybe one of those 7+ billion people is someone that you can help. Maybe there’s someone that you smile at today who needed that smile more than anything else. Maybe a listening ear that you lend lets someone release enough steam that they don’t blow up or break down. Maybe that coffee with a friend gives someone the strength to keep going. Maybe the compliment you paid a stranger makes someone’s day. Maybe your lost dollar bill buys someone else who needs it a lunch. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but that’s OK. It’s Monday, and the world is full of potential, and anything can happen. Today might even be the day I get that TARDIS…

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Lisa Regula
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